Decarb City Pipes 2050

Dr. Rachel Macrorie is a postdoctoral researcher in the Transforming Cities hub. Her current research primarily focuses on the governance of zero-carbon heating and cooling transformations in European cities, and forms part of the collaborative European Horizon 2020 project ‘Decarb City Pipes 2050 – Transition roadmaps to energy efficient, zero-carbon urban heating and cooling’. As part of this project, Rachel is conducting in-depth comparative research and supervising Masters student investigations focused on these cities.

Discover more about this topic and Rachel's work on this page.

Why focus on how we heat and cool our cities?

Urban heating and cooling (H&C) accounts for around half of the energy consumed in the European Union. To fulfill the EU’s climate and energy goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050 the H&C sector needs to dramatically reduce its energy consumption and cut use of fossil fuels. But the link between this sector and decarbonization has long been neglected. Most H&C is still generated from natural gas, with only 18% derived from renewable energy. Inefficient underground heating systems prevail, and energy demand for urban cooling is on the rise. Enabling the H&C transition constitutes a deeply local concern as H&C are produced and used dependent upon the conditions in each city and community. Markets are highly fragmented, as are governance and procedural frameworks. Changes and disruptions in demand are experienced at the level of individual households and neighbourhoods, whilst citizens direct grievances to local representatives. Crucially, H&C is based on grid-bound infrastructure for gas and/or district heating networks, so phasing out carbon-intensive H&C systems falls under the remit of municipal urban planners. With new diverse public, private and community actors entering the market, contrasting forms of ownership, infrastructures with long lifespans, and a need to engage different publics, this transition presents a profound urban planning challenge.

Learn more about the Decarb City Pipes 2050 project

The aim of this collaborative European-funded project is to showcase how local public authorities can be empowered to meet the complex challenges associated with decarbonising urban heating and cooling systems by showcasing progress made by seven cities – Bilbao, Bratislava, Dublin, Munich, Rotterdam, Vienna and Winterthur. These municipalities, and their local working groups of diverse stakeholders, have committed to developing ‘actionable Transition Roadmaps’ to tackle this challenge. Whilst these cities represent; different political-economic, geographic and social contexts, a broad gamut of stages in the infrastructural transition, differently constituted H&C systems and a mix of decarbonisation strategies, they share similar potential obstacles to change. These include; constraining regulatory frameworks including deficient heat, electricity, energy-efficiency regulations, Renewable Energy Sources (RES) promotion and spatial planning laws; an inadequate financial framework; difficulties in promoting low-carbon District Heating Systems (DHS) compared to other heating solutions; a fragmented approach to urban H&C planning; long amortisation rates of pipeline infrastructure; and limited engagement with citizens in how decisions are made. The project aims to support development of strategic governance capacity and encourage horizontal learning between cities, to sustain and accelerate decarbonisation of this sector.


DecarbCityPipes 2050 project

Rachel’s research in the DECARB City Pipes 2050 project

As cities and their urban capacities to govern are increasingly recognised to address global-scale challenges such as climate change, recent scholarship has sought to understand how urban governance, and the modes through which it is achieved, are understood. However, the challenge of governing the complex challenge of decarbonising urban H&C systems has long been overlooked. Within the DECARB project, Rachel seeks to understand how the distributed, and often contested, governance capacity of municipalities and their local working groups of diverse public, private and community-oriented stakeholders, can be enabled to address this challenge. Drawing on recent scholarship (McGuirk and Dowling, 2020), the research focuses on mapping and characterising the: a) enabling elements, b) processes and devices, and c) forms of power, that contribute to cohering and enabling governance capacity for urban H&C transformations. Through in-depth case-study research, participation in a peer-to-peer learning programme, and co-designed workshops in each city, Rachel’s work aims to inform and enable city governance capacities for the sustainable and equitable transition of this sector.

Interested in more of Rachel's work? Click this drop-down bar for a list of her publications.